A bill mandating paid sick leave and expanding federal unemployment benefits that won resounding bipartisan approval in the House and Senate received no support from Wisconsin’s Republicans, who say it was rushed and would put further strain on small businesses.
The legislation, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Wednesday evening, expands federal unemployment benefits and mandates employers provide paid sick leave to employees along with a host of other measures to ease the economic hardships the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has wrought upon many Americans.
But the state’s Republican delegates said the paid leave measure would harm small businesses already struggling with the economic downturn caused by the outbreak.
In a statement, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, supported many of the bill’s provisions, including free testing for COVID-19, but said the legislation could force businesses to lay off workers or close their doors.
“We all agree those living paycheck-to-paycheck shouldn’t have to decide between going to work or endangering their co-workers, but we need a solution that doesn’t cause severe and unintended economic damage,” he said.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, opposed the paid leave provision and expansion of federal unemployment benefits. Instead, he unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that would have cut both in favor of boosting state unemployment funds with federal dollars and passing temporary laws to accommodate their use in response to the pandemic. He voted against the final Senate bill on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed on the bill’s potential damage to small businesses Wednesday morning, but pledged to support the bill. He promised a “more comprehensive package” in coming days.
Wisconsin Republicans also criticized the compressed time frame for the bill’s consideration. The House voted on the bill just before 1 a.m. on Saturday, after less than 40 minutes of debate.
Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Campbellsport, said the speed to get the measure through the House meant representatives didn’t know the cost of the bill or get to study it in-depth. He said more time should have been taken for such sizable legislation.
“There’s absolutely no reason we didn’t suspend the bill for a day or three days,” Grothman said.
Grothman pointed out 27 House members — nine Democrats and 17 Republicans — did not cast votes on the bill Saturday morning, decisions he attributed to the lack of information available on the bill’s impact.
Johnson also lamented the speed with which it was passed.
“They didn’t even know what they were voting on,” Johnson said.
House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to support the bill, with 140 Republicans joining a Democratic majority that included the remainder of Wisconsin’s delegation. In the Senate, only eight Republicans voted against the bill, with 90 senators supporting.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, voted for the bill. She helped introduce legislation March 9 that would have mandated employers to provide 14 days of paid leave in the event of a public health emergency. Lead sponsor Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, attempted to bring that legislation to a floor vote in the Senate last week but was blocked by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee.